Ghost forest: Indonesian heritage museum in work to reconstruct it

Embracing its past: Indonesian heritage museum in work to reconstruct its Dismantled Ghost Forest installation, next to Batam port

The Indonesian heritage museum near the port of Batam is taking on the grandeur of its namesake city with the rescue of Maya Lin’s derelict Dismantled Ghost Forest in an attempt to transform it into a place to be admired for its culture.

The Ghost Forest became so popular that international newspapers around the world wrote about it, with media organisations describing it as a “ghost forest”, “ghost city” or even a “misunderstood urban legend”.

The Indonesian heritage museum is taking on the grandeur of its namesake city with the rescue of Maya Lin’s derelict Dismantled Ghost Forest. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

As a New York-based artist, Maya Lin, known for her memorial installation Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC, was asked to paint the Ghost Forest’s wooden frames, which is part of the history of Batam.

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However, a human rights investigation was commissioned by the NGO Batam Defenders and conducted in 2017, which came up with a report accusing the Indonesian government of failing to uphold the rights of indigenous people in Batam.

The Ghost Forest was prepared by the Batam Historical and Cultural Committee.

Described as a “sacred land” where dolphins pass through and give birth to their calves in the night in late summer, the site was established in the early 19th century for Batam’s wealthiest families.

The Ghost Forest was intended to commemorate the area’s richness and the historical significance of the area. The complaint claims the study said the cultural significance of the forest and its untamed inhabitants were compromised.

In 2012 the nonprofit organisation Campaign for Batam Democracy (CCBD) came up with the idea to build a boat and exhibition exhibit on the devastated wall. This exhibit would document the stories and incidents of the forest and also show visitors how Batam can welcome the next generation.

The project design was approved in June 2015, and in June 2017 the museum completed initial public consultation. However, the city withdrew its approval and their archaeological department removed some of the panels.

Later in 2017, the Museum Studies Unit from the Washington and Zurich Academy of Fine Arts in Switzerland conducted an independent academic study that said the Ghost Forest was a cherished urban and historical monument but not sensitive to landscape conservation.

The researchers claimed that the National Museum of Batam did not give guidance to the museum of heritage, which became problematic.

Once the wooden frames are repainted, they will be transformed into public art and also into a cultural heritage, as a memorial space will be created to honour the tens of thousands of passengers who died or were lost in accidents at Batam.

Batam’s ancient people lived in the forest and it is commonly known as the “ghost town” due to the number of accidents.

There are 14 million Indonesians that regularly visit Batam. According to census data released in 2016, Batam generates $8.3bn (at current exchange rates) from tourism every year. Most of Batam’s population is from the Sulawesi island and this tourist flow in Batam is not only attributable to the mystic glow that bathes its city.

Batam is the commercial centre of Sulawesi and produces 65% of the world’s stem sugar. An Indonesian company named Grow Low Ltd is responsible for almost all of Batam’s sugar cane and distributes the sugar, which can be used for bread or tea.

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